Monday, October 11, 2010

Europe in 1700

Click on the map to enlarge it.

Although historians in the Anglo-Saxon tradition are usually preoccupied with change, historians in the French tradition stress the longue durée- the unchanging lives of the vast majority of people. The Industrial Revolution was to change profoundly the face of Europe but few of these changes were apparent in 1700.

Demographic studies are not an exact science and the textbooks do not always agree on numbers. But all historians agree that the population of Europe rose quite dramatically in the eighteenth century. Western Europe led by France and England gained people at the fastest pace: France’s population rose from c. 21.5 million in 1700 to 28 million in 1789, England’s from 5 to 8.6 million (Scotland had c. 1.2m, Ireland c. 2 m. and Wales about 300,000). Population growth was slower further east. Germany had a popularion of 15 m. in 1700 and 24.5 m. in 1800

But Europeans were still subject to many diseases. By 1760 bubonic plague had disappeared from the west, but it was replaced by smallpox, an airborne virus that enters the human body through the mouth and nose, then multiplies in the internal organs. The lucky escape with pockmarked skin, the less fortunate will be made blind, deaf, or lame; about 15% die. In England Mary II died of smallpox in 1694. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu contracted the disease in 1715 at the age of 26. She survived, but lamented her pockmarked skin and loss of beauty. Understandably, her most celebrated portrait (right) does not show this disfigurement.  Measles was another dangerous and disfiguring illness. In 1712 Louis XIV lost his grandson, his granddaughter-in-law and one of his great grandsons. Only the future Louis XV survived.  Infectious diseases remained endemic in the cities. The rise in life expectancy was very modest by the end of the century.

Food and agriculture
The fundamental question remained the food supply. Before steam power opened up North America, most food was grown locally (Britain was an exception) and was transported by horse-drawn vehicles - making it expensive. The population remained at the mercy of disease, harvest failures and famines. At the beginning of the century France suffered spectacularly. In 1700 there were epidemics on both humans and cattle (1700-1 and 1714), one of the worst winters of the millennium (1709-10) and repeated harvest failures (1710, 1712, 1713). This reduced the population of France by the end of the reign of Louis XIV to its lowest point for three centuries. But these were the last of the great famines of the period until the potato famines of the 1840s.

The staple food was bread. In north-west Europe peas and beans were made into soup and the diet was also supplemented with root vegetables. There was a greater range in the Mediterranean. For most families, milk, cheese, eggs, butter, bacon were luxuries, dependent on the ability to maintain livestock. One reason for the prosperity of the Dutch Republic was the prevalence of salt herring. Livestock were essential for fertilizers.

In 1800 most European agriculture was as technologically primitive as it had been in 1600. Grain was still sown broadcast, ploughs merely scratched the surface of the soil and most harvest work was dome by the sickle rather than the scythe. In 1776 Adam Smith correctly noted that peasants in eastern Europe were still bound to the land and described it as a ‘species of slavery’ – to which he attributed the poverty of this large region.

But the century also saw slow improvements in the diet and in the variation of crops. There were agricultural revolutions in the Netherlands, Catalonia and England. Here the land was cultivated in a more scientific fashion, with alternating pasture and arable and the introduction of winter feed crops. Potatoes began to make inroads and the Po valley began to produce rice. English people ate growing quantities of meat.

Urban life
In 1700 Europe, with the exception of the Netherlands, was not densely urbanized. The only cities of more than 100,000 were Amsterdam, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Palermo, Paris, Naples, Rome, and Venice. Germany had hundreds of towns, but most of them with only 2,000-5,000 inhabitants.

However, with the increase in population in the second half of the 18th century recognizably modern conurbations developed, with Paris growing from c. 450,000 under Louis XIV to 700,000 by 1789 and London’s from 200,000 in 1600 to 675,000 in 1700, 750,000 in 1750 and almost a million by 1800; this made it ten times larger than any other English city and one in six English men and women spent part of their working life there; by 1750 it housed 11% of the English population. Other capital cities also grew, notably Vienna and Berlin, though the most spectacular growth was seen in the new city of St Petersburg (left), a swamp in 1700 and having a population of a quarter of a million in 1800.

Strategically placed ports such as Cadiz, Marseilles and Liverpool expanded while Seville and Venice declined. The most spectacular growth was to be seen in the new towns of Birmingham and Manchester. But according to Arthur Young
‘we must not name Liverpool in competition with Bordeaux'.
Between 1717 and 1789 Bordeaux’s trade increased on average by 4 per cent pa, The lion’s share of its great wealth came from its trade with the West Indian colonies, Gauadaloupe, Martinique and St Domingue (Haiti). The town was dominated by its Grand Théâtre (right), with its huge staircase on which the members of high society paraded in order to see and to be seen. Arthur Young described it as ‘
by far the most magnificent in France. I have seen nothing that approaches it.’
Order and Tradition
In urban Europe it is possible to speak of ‘classes’ by 1700 – though the term was not used in this way until the end of the century. The ‘middling sort’ was growing in importance and status, and in Britain they were aspiring to gentry status. But for most of Europe the place of class was taken by traditional ‘orders’, broad hereditary groupings, legally defined, that united people of a particular quality. For example, the noblesse d’épée (nobility of the sword) in France was a legal group rather than an economic one. The clergy were another ‘order’ comprising the very poor and the very rich.

These orders were often kept apart by law. The Prussian law code of 1794 forbade marriage between nobles and bourgeois women unless with special government permission. This was exceptionally draconian, and such a prohibition would have been unthinkable in Britain or the Netherlands. In Frankfurt-am-Main the burghers were divided into five groups and by medieval regulations confirmed as late as 1731 obliged to wear a special dress. In practice this regulation was not enforced. In Venice in 1710 nobles who appeared in public without wearing the special dress of their order were threatened with fines and imprisonment.

Not every inhabitant of Europe lived in what we would recognize as a nation state but everyone lived in a locality – a parish, a village, a municipality, a county, a province. Local and regional differences were all important. Local dialects were frequently incomprehensible to those outside the area. A local official at Riom in the Auvergne had to abandon an attempt to interrogate a young beggar from Coupière only 25 kilometres away because ‘the speech of Coupière differs considerably from that of Riom’. In less remote and mountainous areas this inability to understand would be much rarer. England is a good example of a surprisingly mobile population.

The villagers of Terling in Essex enjoyed contacts with outsiders resident in London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. At Honiger in Suffolk of the 63 family names recorded in the period 1600-34 only two can be found on the register for 1700-24.
In towns guilds continued to be powerful. In France they had increased in number during the seventeenth century. Even so-called absolute monarchs like Louis XV and Joseph II had great difficulty in undermining their privileges.

Newly conquered areas retained ancient privileges. For example, Strasbourg, annexed by France in 1681, had to accept a French garrison and its cathedral was transferred from Lutheran to Catholic control. But down to 1789 its citizens did no militia service, the city retained its old constitution and its Lutheran inhabitants experienced a relatively high degree of religious toleration. But ancient privileges were ruthlessly undermined in the Highlands of Scotland after 1746 when the chiefs lost their hereditable jurisdictions.

The Family
For most Europeans the family was more important than the individual. Here are a few characteristics of the family in 1700:
1. It was patriarchal and women and children had a subordinate status – though the nature and extent of this subordination varied throughout Europe.
2. It was an economic unit, geared to agricultural production. Most industry was domestic industry. In the traditional economy all members of the family worked. From about 6 children collected animal manure, tended livestock and watched siblings. At 12-14 they learned a trade or went out as domestic servants. Most of them had left home by the age of 14. Women worked alongside men in many tasks
3. It lived with death. A high proportion of children died before their fifth birthdays, grandparents were comparatively rare, women died in childbirth. Second marriages were often an economic necessity. However earlier suggestions that high infant mortality meant that parents were largely indifferent to their young children is not borne out by the evidence.
4. In northern Europe the nuclear family was the norm and the result was a pattern of late marriages (and therefore comparatively few children). In southern Europe extended families were more common.
5. The family was important ideologically as the model of authority within the state. The king of France saw himself as the ‘father’ of his people. It was because they were able to appeal to this model that French women approached Louis XIV in 1709 demanding that he provide their families with bread (a move that was to be repeated in 1789). Even in Britain, where the monarchy did not claim to be absolute, Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha set out the patriarchal model of the family.
The patriarchal model could be undermined by the experiences of real life. Not all men successfully controlled their families. Women in northern Europe had greater independence than those in the Mediterranean countries, where their actions were circumscribed by Roman law. In England, though married women were ‘covered’ by their husbands, single women and widows did not have male guardians.

Outside the ranks of the aristocracy, women could choose their husbands. The ideology of the ‘affective’ marriage challenged patriarchal authority. The changing modes of address among the Italian nobility may reflect changes in the marital relationship. For the generations born between 1700 and 1780 formalities decreased and women started to address their husbands with the voi form; after 1780 tu became more common.

In England the question of how to address one’s spouse was publicly debated at the turn of the eighteenth century and conservatives objected to the new practice of wives addressing their husbands by their Christian names. A growing insistence on romantic love made even many aristocratic parents reluctant to force their daughters into marriages and they limited themselves to exercising a veto over socially or financially unacceptable candidates. ‘Strict settlement’ made it more difficult for an angry father to disinherit his son for making an unsuitable marriage. But some historians have argued that this idealization of the sentimental family merely trapped women more firmly into the domestic sphere.

Attitudes to children were changing in the propertied classes. Childhood came to be seen as a distinct phase in the development of a human being with its own characteristics and requirements. Children were dressed more informally and special books were published for them. The jigsaw was invented in England in the 1760s. Hogarth's portrayal of the Graham children is a sign of the new attitudes.

As the century progressed, new attitudes to children led to the promotion of breast-feeding and to attacks on swaddling. A foreign traveller in England in 1784 noted that even noble and rich women like the duchess of Devonshire (right) breastfed their children.